Vail The hats came flying over the Battle Mountain bench and onto the ice with 2:07 left in Monday night's game against Steamboat Springs at Dobson Arena.
Battle Mountain's Jack Sunderland had a hat trick, and captain Geoff Funk was in on the host's first four goals as the Huskies downed Steamboat Springs, 5-2, avenging a 4-0 loss to the Sailors in December.
"They didn't need to get up for it. I just taped the scoresheet to the door," said Huskies coach Gary Defina, who clearly didn't have to get into Knute Rockne mode before the game. "That was all that took. They remember."
"Everyone was counting us out, so for us to upset Steamboat like that, one of our rivals, that was fun," said Sunderland after his first high school hat trick.
Although it was certainly a revenge game, it's questionable whether it was an upset. In winning their eighth game in nine tries, the Huskies moved to 9-3 overall and 6-0 in the Peak Conference. Meanwhile, the Sailors, after a 6-0 start in December, are 8-3 and 2-3.
"We knew that Battle Mountain was going to come hungry for this game, and we knew that we wanted to set the tempo in the first period, which I don't think we did as good a job on," Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. "We prepared for it. We worked hard and skated a lot in practice. Like I said, I feel that it would have been a more competitive game had we had 5-on-5 all the way through the game."
Neither coach was too happy with the officiating, which is nothing new to any form of high school sports. Defina didn't like the third-period interference call on Ryan Berry, which led to a goal by Steamboat's Cody Fritz, narrowing Battle Mountain's lead to 3-2.
While speaking before looking at the scoresheet after the game, Ruff felt the Sailors got too much attention from the refs. Steamboat had 12 minor penalties to Battle Mountain's nine. The differential was 10-6, discounting the 10 minutes of penalties, which were handed out in the final minute of regulation after the game essentially was decided. The Huskies scored three times on the advantage, while Steamboat's Fritz had a power-play goal. The Sailors' Jake Bearss scored short-handed in the second period.
"I can't help wondering how the penalties are called so lopsided in such a physical game where a Battle Mountain team is that much cleaner than our team," Ruff said. "I walk away feeling that 5-on-5, it would have been a much more competitive game on both sides. I can't blame the referees."
"We knew we had to stay out of the box, let them take the penalties and let them get frustrated," Defina said.
Sunderland is the pivot on Battle Mountain's second line. But when the Huskies go on the power play, the sophomore goes to the first unit, and he seems to be a very good fit.
With 5:14 left in first, Steamboat goalie Matt Dawes got a piece of Connor Tedstrom's shot. The rebound came out to Funk. The captain had a shot, but he dished it instead to Sunderland on the right side of the net for a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later - again on the power play, this time a 5-on-3 - it was Tedstrom to Funk to Sunderland - again.
"We just set up differently on the power play," Sunderland said. "It just seems to work out this year. We're getting goals like crazy. It's definitely working."
Bearss answered for Steamboat with a short-handed goal, streaking from his own end to halve Battle Mountain's lead.
Spencer Fox got what would be the game winner with 12:22 left in the third on the first of two helpers from Cody Kleisinger. Yet Steamboat would not go away. The Sailors scored on a 5-on-3 of their own with Fritz's tally. Needing to ice things, Funke, answered as a part of a one-goal, three-assist night. And then it was Sunderland with the hat trick.
Both teams head to Colorado Springs this weekend. The Sailors play Liberty and Fountain Valley, respectively, while the Huskies have a huge weekend at Lewis-Palmer and Palmer.
The Huskies lead the Peak Conference at 6-0 with Palmer at 5-0 and Lewis-Palmer at 3-1. The only other team in the Peak with one loss is Cheyenne Mountain, and the Huskies gave the Indians that defeat and thus hold the tiebreaker there, so these are some big games for the last weekend in January.
"We know this is it here for first place in the conference, and it's on the road which makes it that much tougher," Defina said. "Both those teams are going to come out fired up in their barns, and they know it's for first place. We have to match their intensity and use our special teams to take care of those games."